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SINGING THE SXSW BLUES

Musicians reflect on event’s cancellation due to COVID-19 concerns

The City of Austin’s March 6 cancellation of South by Southwest due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 marks the first time in 34 years the Texas music conference and festival will not take place.

The following artists reflect on hearing the news that SXSW 2020 and their respective official showcases were canceled, as well as talk about what they are doing instead in the near future.

Austin country singer Robynn Shayne (above), whose fourth album, Let’s Get This Show on the Road, is due March 20.
“I was about to start soundcheck for my show at The Austin Rodeo BBQ cookoff when my husband showed me an email he received that it had all been canceled. My immediate reaction was obviously disappointment, but considering one of my official shows was at The Saxon Pub, which is iconic and known for daily live music for the past 30 years, I had hopes that they would make sure the shows would still happen. They did! That show is still a go [for March 17]! My other SXSW show is with KOKE-FM, which is one of the biggest radio stations in Austin, so I also was confident they would also make sure the show would go on.

“Considering the airline I work for had already canceled many flights, I somewhat expected them to cancel SXSW as well. As a flight attendant, I am constantly surrounded by people, germs and recycled airplane air. I’m very cautious and make sure to wash my hands often. I take measures to keep my immune system strong. I am probably less nervous about catching something than most, but I just can’t stop living my life. Gotta keep hustling!

“I do hate knowing a lot of my friends who are bar and restaurant owners will take a hit. However, Austin always comes together to support local, and I’ve seen many posts encouraging people to really make a point to do so the next couple of weeks. The folks who live local who tend to avoid the SXSW festivities will likely come out now. I know some of my friends personally who are excited that now they’ll be able to attend shows without an official wristband. I didn’t live in Austin when SXSW originally started, but I’ve heard some make mention that maybe this year it’ll be more like how it was when it first started. Sort of nostalgic for some.”

Lizzy Shapiro is the singer for Lizzy & the Triggermen. The Los Angeles-based swing band’s new single, out March 13, is a cover of The Strokes’ “Someday.”
“I was actually on the road, driving our gear up to San Francisco for a big gala we were supposed to play on [March 7]. Halfway into the drive from L.A., I found out SXSW got canceled. As I pulled into San Francisco, I found out our gala was canceled. So, yeah, [March 6] wasn’t the greatest day. But, of course, people’s health comes first.

“My first reaction was just to feel really sad and disappointed. That was how all of us felt. As an artist, getting chosen to play such an iconic festival is such an honor. We were all so excited about going — none of us had ever been before — and we had it on the books since before Thanksgiving. But after the news broke, we had such an outpouring of kind messages from our friends and fans, that it reminded us how lucky and supported we are. I mostly feel terrible for the festival organizers and the amazing venues in Austin. They put so much heart and soul into the festival, I can only imagine how devastated they must be. We were so looking forward to playing the beautiful Parker Jazz Club and the legendary Antone’s for Miles Davis House.

“As you can imagine, traveling a 10-piece band is not cheap. Fortunately, our hotel was refundable. Unfortunately, the 11 flights we booked are another story. But we can still use the plane credit, so it’s not a total loss. 

“We adore Austin and would love to get to play in a city so iconic for music. Obviously getting to play SXSW 2021 would be amazing, and we’d be thrilled and honored to be asked back. In the meantime, anyone who lives in Austin who wants to book a 10-piece jazz band: We currently have 11 flights we need to use within the year — just saying.

“Our debut EP, Good Songs for Bad Times, is [coming out] April 10, so our focus is shifting toward that. … Aside from the EP, we’ve also got some really exciting shows in May and June. We’re returning to the El Rey on May 15 and then making our New York City debut at the Cutting Room on May 27.”

Austin singer-songwriter JM Stevens is best known as the frontman for Moonlight Towers and a co-owner of East Austin Recording. Stevens released his debut solo album, Invisible Lines, in November.
“I was traveling doing a show down in Mississippi when I got the news — quite surreal. Lots of folks are really hurting down here on account of the financial loss, which runs deep and covers so many sectors. So many people count on this every year to help with trying to get by in this damn city.

“As of now, all the shows I had scheduled are still on, besides one solo alternate South By showcase. My official showcase at Valhalla [on March 19] is now just a show, I guess, and my time changed. A lot of day parties are still on as it stands now, and I don’t see that changing unless something major happens, which I guess is a real possibility with the way things have been shaking out.

“There are some mixed feelings I see [around town], but for the most part, people seem ready to plow ahead as planned.”

— Introduction and interviews by Chris M. Junior

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